Saturday, December 24, 2011

Shepherding Our Incarnate Hope

Every year it’s something different.  Sometimes it’s Mary—wondering about giving birth in the middle of some strange city, with a husband she barely knows.  Sometimes it’s the manger scene—the smell of hay and cows and crying babies. 
This year…this year it’s the shepherds.  In the nativity scene on my piano, they are almost as beautiful as Mary—always looking lovingly at the baby lamb they hold in their arms.  They’re calm and serene, contemplating the wonders that have taken place.  We love to see them, when they’re little children dressed up in their daddy’s robes, traipsing down the center aisle with staffs made of duct tape and smiles that light up their faces.
But, really, shepherds were pretty awful people…no one liked them—they were the beggars of the working class…they pastured their sheep on other people’s lands, in essence stealing the grass under their feet.  They were away all night, leaving their wives to fend for themselves—giving themselves the description of dishonorable and unreliable.  And, my guess is, they were anything but beautiful and serene—with faces weathered by the wind and clothes worn for days and weeks at a time.  And yet, yet…it was to these ones to whom the angels sang:
“Do not be afraid.  For see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:  to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
            I’m trying to imagine this…you’re hard at work—doing what you can to survive—doing what you’re called to do; maybe you’re preaching a sermon to a bunch of hope-filled faces; or you’re sitting at a desk making a phone call; or you’re in class listening to a lecture; or you’re guiding planes to their destination; or you’re stocking shelves or driving to your next appointment—when suddenly the skies are filled with angels from on high, bidding you to put down your phone, to stop your typing, to cease your preaching, to strain your eyes toward heaven.  And what you hear is far from an ordinary birth announcement.  And surprisingly enough it’s not the angels proclaiming, or the arrival of a Savior that knocks you over, but this time you hear that your baby has been born.  Your baby.  Because in case you missed it—To you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior.  To You. 
            It would have made much more sense to hear what we always hear:  “Mary and Joseph would like to announce the arrival of their new bouncing baby boy—Jesus.”  And the shepherds could have send a nice card and some well-wishes and gone back to tending sheep.  But apparently when God enters the world, even birth takes on a whole new meaning, and instead of getting nine month to prepare, those despised shepherds discovered they were parents in the wee hours of the morning.  And so what did they do?  Did they shake their heads: “I’m pretty sure the angels must be talking to someone else?”  Did they wait a few moments, trying to figure out if indeed that was God talking or the strong ale they had just consumed?  Did they try and analyze or discuss or disregard…
            Nope…they ran.  They hiked up their dirty shepherd robes, used their staffs for leverage and ran…because when you’ve just been told your baby has entered the world, there is nothing more you want, then to hold him in your arms.  When you’ve just been told hope has flesh, you have to grab hold of that promise and never let go.
            Can you hear them?  Can you hear the heavenly chorus of angels?  They are singing their song once more.  “To you…to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior.”  To you, is born a baby…to you is born God.  I vote…we bypass voting and discussion altogether and instead…we hike up our robes, use our staffs for leverage and run…run to our baby…and hold him close…because today hope has a body; today a promise has been born; today we have heard the angels.  And clinging to the One born this day, seems to be the only thing we’ll ever need. 

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